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Senior women academics in Hong Kong: a life history approach

By Martha Pik Har Lam


This study generates a substantive theory of how factors in the life histories of a cohort of eleven senior female academics in Hong Kong contributed to their success in academe. The primary source of data is a series of face-to-face interviews with the respondents. The critical relationships, educational experiences, and life events that contributed to the career\ud development of these women are identified, and these data are supplemented by\ud information about the respondents collected from university websites and the media. Using\ud the constant comparative method, categories are gradually developed to constitute the basis of the proposed substantive theory.\ud The major outcome of the study is a grounded theory of how the respondents made sense\ud of their attributes and used their dominant attributes to achieve success in their academic careers. A fundamental concept of this ‘theory of selective attribution in career trajectory’ is the existence of reciprocal relationships among: (i) individual attributes (personal, social\ud and academic); (ii) socialisation processes; and (iii) career trajectories. At various stages of the respondents’ career trajectories, the interplay between their dominant attributes and their socialisation experiences affected their construction (and subsequent redefinition) of their personal orientations—thus producing variations among individuals in their career orientations, strategies and pathways.\ud The study finds that the senior female academics in this cohort shared many desirable ‘success attributes’, which were largely formed and nurtured through various socialisation experiences, particularly in the early stages of their lives. In addition to these common features, certain distinguishing factors among individuals within the cohort are identified – forming divergent patterns of dominant attributes in terms of personal identities, values,\ud career orientations, and career strategies. These divergent patterns are utilised to present a threefold typology of senior female academics: (i) ‘career academics’; (ii) ‘career educators’ and (iii) ‘career opportunists’. In accordance with the dominant attributes they exhibited, women of a given type are found to hold similar personal identities, values and career orientations, and to have employed similar career strategies.\ud The substantive theory of ‘selective attribution in career trajectory’ provides a new perspective on how female academics make sense of their attributes, and how they use\ud them to achieve success in their academic lives. The theory thus contributes to the\ud literature on the career development of female academics, especially with respect to how such women perceive, respond to, manage and balance the multiple demands placed upon\ud them in their academic and family lives. Although the theory is generalisable only to\ud female academics in situations similar to the present cohort, it has implications for the development of theory, practice and future research

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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